The Bolton Embarrassment
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When the United States sought to be a true world leader, as opposed to a petulant global bully, this country's seat at the United Nations was occupied by great men and women. Consider just some of the amazing figures who have served as U.S. ambassadors to the international body: former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, former Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, former civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman Andrew Young, academics and public intellectuals Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jean Kirkpatrick, Madeline Albright and Richard Holbrooke, former State Department aide and New Mexico Congressman Bill Richardson, former Missouri Senator John Danforth.
These ambassadors came from different parties and from different ideological backgrounds, they had different styles and different goals, but they had one thing in common: They served with the broad support of official Washington and the American people. When they spoke, they spoke for America. And they did so in a tradition of U.S. regard for the mission of the U.N., which was perhaps best expressed by an American who served for three decades as a key player in the world council, Ralph Bunche. "The United Nations," said Bunche, "is our one great hope for a peaceful and free world."
To make that hope real, U.S. ambassadors had to be both strong and pragmatic advocates for the best interests of their own country and visionaries who recognized that all United Nations member states merited at least a measure of diplomatic regard. As Adlai Stevenson, who capped a brilliant career in American politics by representing his country at the U.N. during some of the hottest years of the Cold War, explained, "The whole basis of the United Nations is the right of all nations -- great or small -- to have weight, to have a vote, to be attended to, to be a part of the twentieth century."
Needless to say, John Bolton has never expressed any sentiment regarding international affairs or the United Nations so well or wisely as Stevenson. Bolton is a hack politician, a career retainer of the Bush family who is famous for nothing so much as his disrespect for the diplomacy and international cooperation in general, and for the United Nations in particular.
So creepy has been Bolton's partisanship -- he was a prime player in moves to shut down the recount of Florida votes following the disputed 2000 presidential election -- and so crude has been his behavior that thoughtful Republicans such as Ohio Senator George Voinovich determined that the nominee would not be an appropriate representative of the United States. But President Bush has forced Bolton on the U.S. and the U.N., making a recess appointment that places his controversial nominee in the same position once occupied by Lodge, Stevenson and Moynihan.
Bolton will serve differently than his predecessors. For one thing, he is neither the intellectual nor the emotional equal of those who came before him. For another, he will be seen as a representative only of the Bush White House -- not of the United States or its people.
At a time when the United States should be a full and active participant in the United Nations, it will instead be marginalized force -- an embarrassed land represented by one its most embarrassing sons.
U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been a leading advocate for bipartisan approaches to foreign policy, spoke well for America -- and for this country's shattered tradition of respect for the U.N. -- when he said on the day of the recess appointment: "Mr. Bolton is fundamentally unsuited for the job, and his record reveals a truly disturbing intolerance of dissent. Mr. Bolton did not win the support of a majority of members of the Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate refused to make a final decision on this nomination pending review of documents that the Administration declined to provide in blatant disregard for the Senate's constitutional rights and responsibilities. But despite all of the warning signs and all of the red flags, the President has taken this extraordinary step to send a polarizing figure with tattered credibility to represent us at the United Nations. At a time when we need to be doing our very best to mend frayed relationships, encourage real burden-sharing, and nurture a rock-solid international coalition to fight terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the American people deserve better than John Bolton."
John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.